Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Memoirs of a Practising Physical Therapist

As a practicing physical therapist, everyday life brings before me an opportunity to meet new faces and a chance to probe deep into their lives. This is simultaneously enlightening as well as depressing. Sometimes, it is painful to hear the story of the hardships that people endure to lead normal lives, their pain, difficulties and disappointments become a part of my life for the days to come. Sometimes, the triumph of their spirit to conquer obstacles becomes an inspiration for me. Raka was one such who touched me forever.

She was ten years old and was the victim of a gruesome road accident, while returning from school one day. When she first came to my clinic, I could see that she was a hopeless case. Her limbs were paralyzed and there was very little chance to recovery. I was about to tell her parents who had accompanied her that there was nothing I could do for her, when I saw her tiny face smile with hope. I decided to give it a try.

As a Physical therapist I provide services that help restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical disabilities of patients suffering from injuries or disease. My clan restores, maintains, and promotes overall fitness and health. Our patients include accident victims and individuals with disabling conditions such as low-back pain, arthritis, heart disease, fractures, head injuries, and cerebral palsy.

I examined her medical histories and then measured Rakas’ strength, range of motion, balance and coordination, posture, muscle performance, respiration, and motor function. I also had to determine her ability to be independent and reintegrate into the community or workplace after injury or illness. Next, as a physical therapist, I had to develop treatment plans describing a treatment strategy, its purpose, and its anticipated outcome.

We started our sessions. I showed her exercises that would not be difficult for her to grasp. But I found that she could not do them. Despite the apparent inability, she was trying and trying harder than I thought she was capable of. I had to use electrical stimulation, hot packs or cold compresses, and ultrasound to relieve pain and reduce swelling. I also used traction, deep-tissue massage to relieve pain. There were sessions where I had to show her how to use a wheelchair.

All through the entire exercise, Raka smiled and tried hard. There were times when I was sure that we were losing and almost ready to give up, but she would always beam a brilliant smile and I knew that we could try harder

Six months later, Raka could walk on her feet again. As she took her first slow steps, I did not know who was happier, her parents or I. We had dinner at her place, where I saw photographs of her school. She had to quit school after that accident. Although, she took lessons at home, she longed to go back to school and be with her friends. It was tough for a ten year old to realize why her friends almost never came to visit her, or why she could not participate in their games, much as she wanted to.

One day Raka was strong enough to go back to school. I came to see her off that day. As she smiled gratefully at me and walked up to her bus, I knew that this tiny heart had more courage in her than an army of soldiers and that had made all the difference.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Home Alone

For the last two days I have been all alone at home, and since my lonely sojourn promises to last another two days, the unknown ghosts of the dark that threaten to break upon my reverie might as well gear up for action. Meanwhile, I stand prepared, my arsenal all set and ready to go!

First in the line of fire is the TV. I never had it so good. No more fighting over the remote, no more fidgeting over which TV channels are "not appropriate" and no more mutted gasps of disbelief at my amazing ability to change channels before the wink of an eye. I have been having a time of my life, waltzing away to the sound of the music when "my" favorite shows are on.

Hmmm….and then there is my computer. Spider Solitaire, my father's sworn enemy is no longer pursued surreptitiously. It makes a grand entrance and is welcome. My folks have declared it persona non grata. Who cares when they are not around.

The microwave comes next. It’s been long since I tried my now famous experiments with food churning out unmentionables that only I could eat in order to save my pride. Now between my stomach and me lies the dustbin and even if I’m left hungry I would not have to swallow my pride, there's always the friendly take-away outlet close to home.

For once, there will be no reprimands if my wardrobe resembles the remains of a robbed Egyptian Pyramid and if the table is not cleared and if the washing machine is over stacked with idonnowhats till it threatens to overturn.

But for once, there will be no Baba to take me home from the station at 9pm at night. The rough job will be mine and mine alone. For once, there will be no Ma fussing over how little I eat, even if it’s more than a truckload of eatables. For once there will be no parents to tell me to go to bed, because if I don't get enough sleep, I would not be able to wake early enough in the morning. For once, no one will run behind me with the food plate when I get late, or pick up the newspaper in the morning or give me breakfast.’s not good for me

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Once again i woke up late this morning! Had to rush with the trappings of the day and some extra work what with reviving my poor old battered mobile phone and emptying my bag of yesterday's remnants of samosa (yes yes yes, there are days when I don't find the time to eat) and finding clothes to put on -- its still a civilized country after all--- I got late as usual Rushed to the station to find out that my 7:32 had decided not to turn up at all today! You ditched me! You dumped me! 7:32 sniff ;-)) Got another train where we were packed like molecules-- I’ll change my mind about that. Even molecules get space to breathe. Somebody was singing 'Que sara sara' and I swayed to the rhythm of the train rocking along the lines, merrily skipping away without a care in the world. A group of girls were preparing for an exam and they seemed to find no trouble at all in that crowd. I clutched onto my bag for mercy. The woman standing next to me could have picked it. Thank God, at least this is the Ladies compartment. Yesterday, they conducted the 1st International Festival of non-verbal arts in the office grounds. It was fun watching very talented people from Ireland, Sweden, Japan, South Korea and India performing mimes, and songs and dances. There was a sitar recital. We left office late and I got back home really late! No regrets. Felt so refreshed after a long long time. Had a strange dream last night. Thought I saw that Mukesh Ambani and Anil Ambani were my neighbors. On a warm winter afternoon, we were strolling along the park and I was trying to get friendly with Anil's daughter who belonged to my school. They even asked me to help sort their crisis with Reliance Infocomm and Reliance Energy. Train got me to the station at a time, when I had to run for my life if I wanted to catch the bus. Got it! With some help from Santosh, who was on my train, but remember, I was in the ladies compartment. you are late yet again!!! Thought I saw that written on everybody's eyes. I can't understand, why I look so worried and scared when I get late. There are people who catch the bus at the eleventh hour everyday as a rule. Neither do they look paranoid nor does anybody question them. Beats me..... FM blaring loud in the bus. 'Dil Chahta Hain, kabhi naa beete chamkile din' my favorite movie after Anand. Haven't seen a better movie since then. At traffic junction a blind man was begging for money. Before I could fish out anything, the lights had turned green. Early in the morning, the city looks like a child who's just woken up and realized that there's a lot to do today, but he's still feeling sleepy. The bus rumbles on, I am yawning and trying my best to enjoy the remixes, but truth is that they are jarring.

Office office...loads of work, disgruntled boss, Anwesha Chatterjee, overworked and underpaid...Another day has just begun.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004


Wake up every morning and start the grind again. It’s been this way for the past nine months. A hasty breakfast and a long long journey after that. But thanks to Indian Railways, if the things could have been worse, they made it happen. I have trusted the infallibility of our trains so much that I know that my 7:32 train will never come before 7:45 and it never fails me. Seats? Did you talk of seats in the train? Whatever in the world are those? Here you will find sacks of homegrown vegetables trudging their way to the wholesale market proudly taking their place among seats meant for humans. And you find, fellow passengers who refuse to load their luggage in the cargo....the seats belong to the suitcases and the tomatoes and the flowers and the sacred unmentionable idonnowhats of this country. Meanwhile I stand....

And then my mind flies along with the train to the country side, taking along with it memories of the years gone by, the peals of laughter and the tears of joy, the pouts of disappointment and the frowns of frustration. I remember the train rides that I used to take as a child. Stations flying past me, each with its own story lost in the maze of people thronging to it every day. The jhalmuri and the pepsi, the potato chips and the hair clips..They’re all still there.....the balloons are still there...the stations stand testimony to the days that are past.

Only I have changed.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

After a While

After a while you learn the subtle difference between
Holding a hand and chaining a soul,
And you learn that love doesn't mean leaning and
Company doesn't mean security,

And you begin to learn that kisses aren't contracts
And presents aren't promises,
And you begin to accept your defeats with your head
Up and your eyes open, with the grace of an adult,
Not the grief of a child,

And you learn to build all your roads on today
Because tomorrow's ground is too uncertain for plans.
After a while you learn that even sunshine burns if you get too much.
So plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really can endure . . .
That you really are strong,
And you really do have worth.And you learn and you learn . .

Monday, August 09, 2004

The last page of my Maths notebook

All of us out here
Have something to dread
The maths exercises at the end of the chapter
That have to be read
Read on, and stared at, and gaped at and sighed
"I can't solve a single problem,
I don't deny"
Pen in my hand and notebook before,
Every time, I get a solution, the answer cries, "Encore"
Try again and again and you may get it right,
But chances probably are that you never might.

Out of desperation
And sheer frustration
And consolation
For my battered soul;
I turn to the last page of my Maths notebook,
Nothing else will condole.
For here lies my kingdom of total fantasy,
Here I am the King, here is total ecstasy.
Little additions, subtractions, multiplications and divisions,
And all those wee little things
That'll drive away my arithmetic inhibitions
Small notes alongside, curses and remarks,
Every minute thought that this soul embarks.
Here is where I've drawn Mona Lisa with my pen,
And here is where I find succor again and again.
Here lie my best poems, couplets and rhymes,
And here is where during my study hours,
I commit my most heinous crimes.
The last page, the very last page of my maths note book,
Come ye all who will, come and have a look.
Here is where I'm creative, when the world says "NO! NO!!"
Here's where I’m Einstein or Newton or all the great ones that you know.

But, the last page, why the last page why not the first?
Why don't you turn to the first page?
If you are all that well versed?

Well, you see the last page has a charm that's one of its kind,
It’s like chicken for the soul, the heart and the mind.
In moments of distress or extreme anxiety,
We always seek solace from the most ignored.
THAT symbolizes the last page,
You'd hardly look at it
It’s treated as a burden wearisome and misfit,
But ironical that life is, we always turn to this,
Whenever in our lives, something is amiss.

Life is too complicated; try to make it a bit light,
Turn to the last page, its guaranteed to fill you with delight.
We all have a last page, only that we don't seek to find,
We'd rather seek back and sulk, we're just not inclined.
So, in moments of sorrow or anger or rage,
One great idea, turn to the last page.
Honesty is the best policy is an age-old adage,
I'd rather be honest,
This composition too, was written on the last page!

[September, 1999, Delhi]

Managing IIMs (Intellectual Indian Male)

I like them. I enjoy their company. I'd count some among my good friends. But I couldn't handle them in large doses, and I emphatically could not live with one of them. Yes, I speak here of my own secret brand of bigotry-my deep-seated visceral mistrust of the Intellectual Indian Male (IIM).
Yes, I know generalisations are odious. They flatten rich, complex, idiosyncratic individuals into faceless homogeneity. I accept that's unfair. So let me clarify at the start that all I'm venturing here is a hypothesis-and one based on my own circumscribed personal experience of Indian mankind of the self-consciously cerebral variety. And anyway, given that women are constantly having to negotiate cliches about dumb blondes and hairy-legged feminists and bespectacled plain Janes, I don't see why I shouldn't run the risk of perpetuating a couple of truisms from an ovarian view of the universe. Let me first make a crucial distinction between the average thinking male and the IIM. In my book, the first is simply a man capable of some reflection, some analysis, of generating a few ideas (some inspired, some average)-basically a man who owns a cerebrum, like the rest of humanity, and uses it when he needs it. The IIM, on the other hand, Owns a Cerebrum-and how. He'll never let you forget it. He can't forget it himself. He struts it, he flaunts it, he jiggles it. He owns it with a ferocious zamindari arrogance, a naove self-consciousness, a Born-Again zeal.
His ancient forbears' primitive fetishisation of the penis has simply been replaced with a new-found reverence towards the new totem of the times: the Cerebral Cortex. The IIM has demarcated it, has set up his flags, manicured its hedges, careful to keep out any marauding impulse from the neighbouring vicinity of the cerebellum and hypothalamus. For the IIM has no use for these lesser cognitive mechanisms, these embarrassing throwbacks to a messy non-rational past.
Not surprisingly, the wilful schism between old brain and new brain has given rise to certain brands of convenient schizophrenia. And so the IIM is used to living like the Grand Trunk Express-in compartments. The divide between the boardroom and bedroom, between seminar room and locker room-these are some of the binaries the IIM thrives on. The IIM is fully capable of delivering a lecture, replete with bibliographical flourishes, on Lukacs' concept of reification, and promptly retiring to the Gents to share a lascivious wink with a fellow-lecturer on the proportions of the female chairperson's posterior. The IIM can offer you a cogent critique of the manifestations of patriarchal hegemony in diverse cultures of the globe. (His speeches about the Indian woman's Right to Orgasm have, in fact, a tinge of testosteronal hysteria that women are immediately wary of.) But question him about his family life, and you're likely to find that on an annual vacation back home, his wife spends three weeks at his parents' place, while he drops in for a token weekend at hers'.
Double standards. Mention the phrase in his presence, and the IIM will take instant umbrage. Catch him on a Sunday morning doing the crossword with his feet up, while his wife makes aloo parathas in the kitchen, and he'll shrug it off with, "I hope you aren't one of those politically correct feminists who doesn't understand that life is all about inconsistency and contradiction." Fair enough. But how about grappling with some of those contradictions, instead of blithely accepting those that suit you? The IIM won't deign to answer. He has his mind on higher things. He's busy plotting new paradigms for planetary perfection, while his wife sews on buttonholes and attends PTA meetings.
He's earned the right to be sensitive now. He can talk for hours about his childhood traumas and adolescent angst. He's allowed to sniffle through war movies. He enjoys these privileges to the hilt, and loves to tell you about his sensitive female side (IIMs are notoriously deluded.) But his wife hasn't yet earned the right to be smarter than he is. Woe betide her if she were to find fault with one of his learned monographs, or suggest that their second kid take on her surname. For when a self-conscious sensitivity gets together with a self-conscious cerebrum, what you get is an outsized case of self-absorption, a narrow self-serving intellectual sophistry. Knowledge for the IIM is about acquisition. It's about grasping and jealously hoarding a body of information with a view to monopolising power. The self and knowledge are two entirely separate categories for the IIM. Learning, consequently, isn't about self-enquiry and internalisation; it's about naked colonisation and annexation.
I have a private litmus test by which I separate the regular thinking bloke from the IIM. The strategy is to mix up contexts and see how he reacts. (The IIM simply cannot handle sudden shifts in register, especially when initiated by a woman.) Discuss rabi crops and Richard Gere, J. Krishnamurti and your grandmother's mango pickle recipe-all in the same breath. If he brightens up at the mention of James Joyce, but looks uncomfortable or furtive or lecherous (or worse still, emits one of those high-pitched, repressed, quintessentially Indian male giggles) at the mention of Jennifer Lopez, banish him forthwith to the IIM category. There is surely nothing more pitiful than the male who's intellectually bullworkered, but psychologically pre-pubescent.
Of course, he deserves sympathy. Don't give up on him. Befriend him, civilise him, edify him. Remind him that it's possible to be honest and open, even playful, about sex, without having to retreat into some furtive old boys' clique to ventilate a festering adolescent male fantasy. Remind him that there's a vast terrain between the head and the loins just waiting to be explored. Remind him that it's possible to own a mind without doing a tribal dance around it to prove that it's yours. And advise him to learn the following by rote-the fact that genuine liberalism has always been much more a matter of the gut, than the cerebrum.

Never Been Ragged

Wheezing past my second year at Delhi University at a characteristic speed of three hundred and sixty five days a year give or take the vacations, I suddenly find myself at the crossroads. Arguably the last summer vacation of my life (the third year is spent scouting for a job and the fourth; looking after it) at this juncture, I am in a mood to reminiscence.

From the very-certain-of-herself teenager who left Kolkata (it was still Calcutta then) to the girl who lost her way in the maze of Delhi buses, life has been a rumbling journey on a Delhi Transport Corporation bus generously punctuated with the stops. Like my second day in college when I fractured my leg, trying to jump off a speeding bus (that too in block heels) because I had miscalculated and hence missed my stop. Like the month we took off from our classes for our fest. Like the week our professors refused to teach us, because they decided to reverse roles and mass bunk. Or the days when we slipped out from the Maths classes to go to PVR or Connaught Place or even good old Kamla Nagar (the Connaught Place of Delhi University), anything to avoid Prof. RRM (name withheld even without request)

There have been days when all that my wardrobe held for me was a dirty pair of jeans and a crumpled T-Shirt. I donned them for who cares for etiquette at an age when "we were young and restless; we needed to unwind" But true to Bryan Adams, I guess nothing can last forever.........Like the ragging sessions where my friend Upasana who hadn't a pair of Salwar suits in the world; had to get a dozen stitched for that one month. Like the smell of the college loo where I hid for three hours in order to escape being ragged. Like being there at Rajghat, the day Bill Clinton was there. Like squatting on the streets in my brand new Salwar Kmaeez and shouting "Hamaari Maange Puri Karo!"

Then there was the computer laboratory. The great misadventure. Where computers crashed at the innocence of my well-meant C++ programs. When seven of us sat at one terminal not because it was the only connected to the Internet, but because we wanted to read each other's "private mails". Where the air-conditioner offered us respite from the summer of forty-five degrees. We stayed there till we were driven out.
When we chatted with unknown netizens we knew we had arrived. When we hacked email accounts and fought over our favourite terminals we knew we belonged.

From here to eternity, God alone knows where destiny will take us- Wipro, Infosys, TCS, Hughes, Cadence, IBM, Microsoft, - the names whirling round us in a labyrinth of bewilderment. Sometimes it scares us, like now, when they are saying that the bubble has burst. Sadly though, what I’ll always regret about college is that despite all the fun that I had I probably remain the only one in my class who's never been ragged.

[Written during my summer vacations, 2001]